The government’s proposed ethnic minority survey

Hong Kong – ‘Asia’s World City’. We live in a vibrant melting pot of cultures, and we’re proud of it. But despite this, our city is still failing many of the 6.4 percent of people who make up our ethnic minority population, particularly those from South Asia. Over 80 percent of South Asians living here work in low-paid, low-skill jobs. They are more likely to have problems in securing a house and, according to Oxfam, are more likely to work longer hours and for lower pay than their Chinese counterparts.

“The amount of Chinese I learned in school was totally nil,” says Tauqir Ahmad, an assistant project director at Lady MacLehose Centre, which supports ethnic minorities. Ahmad was born in Pakistan, and came here in 1996 when his father got a job. He studied at a ‘designated’ English-language school. “Of course, that was the main problem for me. There was no communication with local people – only Indians, Nepalese and Filipinos. We were segregated because we didn’t have any opportunity to study with local people.”

The giant language barrier in our society is at the root of many of the social problems that South Asians face. As most of these students don’t speak Chinese at home, they struggle to keep up with lessons at mainstream Chinese-language schools, and usually attend one of the 31 government-funded English-language schools instead. In late October, the Equal Opportunities Commission warned the government they need to address this issue of segregation or face investigation.

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“These [English-language] schools teach Chinese to ethnic minorities at a lower level, rather than teaching it as a second language,” says Puja Kapai, a fourth-generation Indian and an associate professor of law at Hong Kong University. “So by the time they get to Form Six, their language abilities in Chinese are only equivalent to Grade Two or Three.”

Kapai explains that ‘these graduates are limited to a realm of jobs’. She says, “Even a graduate with a high grade in GCSE Chinese may struggle even to work as a delivery boy, as he won’t be able to read the address in Chinese. There is no way for upward social mobility. [The system] entrenches an entire family in inter-generational poverty – they can’t break free from that cycle because the educational opportunities do not put them on equal footing with their counterparts.” Kapai feels that the government needs to start providing a dedicated CSL (Chinese as a second language) curriculum within mainstream schools.

Ahmad agrees that something needs to change. He says, “The education system is totally unfair for us. Other countries have a fair system, but here the ethnic minorities cannot interact with the local people – how can they learn Chinese if they have no interaction? That’s why they get lower-priority jobs as construction workers, drivers and security guards. It is a major problem.” Ahmad admits that, at first, he struggled to get a job due to his poor academic qualifications. “The schools don’t put much effort into ethnic-minority students,” he says.

While it’s true that many children from ‘white’ families also don’t learn Chinese, that demographic tends to be wealthier, with children more likely to study at international schools and attend university abroad. “About one percent of ethnic-minority students [here] get into university,” says Mariana Law, spokesperson for the Equal Opportunities Commission. “You have to understand the background of these South Asian kids. If they can’t get into university here, then there is no alternative.”

So, why is it so hard for ethnic minorities to pick up Chinese at mainstream schools? “That’s the million-dollar question!” exclaims Yip. “The UN have said repeatedly that Hong Kong needs to develop a CSL policy to help ethnic minorities get equal life opportunities. Why
is it not happening?” she asks. “The government hasn’t always been very concerned about ethnic-minority issues, partially because they are 6.4 percent [of the population] – some would argue it’s not a big number. Also a lot of these people, politically, they are disenfranchised. So they can’t garner that attention.”

Law points out that ‘some ethnic-minority students don’t even go to kindergarten’, which certainly exacerbates the problem. “There
are various reasons [for that], including that the kindergartens aren’t subsidised by the government,” she says. “Some of the parents also feel it’s too difficult to get into them, because the medium of instruction is Chinese.”

While Ahmad appreciates that, overall, Hong Kong is a good place to live, he acknowledges that cultural understanding between Chinese and minority populations is still a problem. “It’s much harder for the locals to integrate [with us],” he says. “Sometimes colour or race, it makes a difference for them.” He also thinks that discrimination is latent. “Housing is a major issue right now in the [ethnic-minority] community. Landlords or agents make excuses like, ‘sorry, we don’t have any houses right now’, or raise the price out of their expectation. They don’t want to give the house to them, because they think they will have lots of children… there are lots of reasons.” Ahmad continues, “And when a contract is issued, it’s often written in Chinese. What is said verbally [by the landlord] may be different from what is written, but they cannot read it.”

The government has now promised to conduct a special survey into the households of ethnic minorities at some point next year, with a view to improving the data that is available. No other details have been announced yet. “It’s a better-late-than-never gesture,” says Yip. “It’s very important that the government knows more about this community before they try to help them out of their issues.”

Working to resolve these problems could reduce the social unrest that can unfurl through the marginalisation of certain groups. “There are districts now that really are facing youth gang problems,” says Yip. “If [these youths] cannot see a way out through the normal avenues, they very easily get lured into drugs and crime. The government really has to face the problem, and that involves giving them hope and equal opportunities in all facets of life.” Anna Cummins

To find out more about the Equal Opportunities Commission, see

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Speaking the language of change in Asia-Pacific

Asia-Pacific is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse regions in the world. However, rather than benefiting from this cultural richness, a lack of mother-tongue based education all too often means that those who speak minority languages are trapped in a vicious cycle of marginalization and discrimination.

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Breaking that cycle and recognizing the integral role of mother-tongue based multilingual education (MTB MLE) in the Education for All (EFA) process will be the primary focus of a major international conference being held by UNESCO Bangkok from 6-8 November, 2013.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana will deliver the welcoming speech at the 4th International Conference on Language And Education: Multilingual Education for all in Asia and the Pacific – Policies, Practices, and Processes, which will be held at Bangkok’s Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel.

Other top policy-makers and non-governmental organization representatives from around the region and beyond will discuss successes and challenges in implementing MLE programmes in their countries. Experts in the field from international universities and think-tanks will also share their research and insights.

The event is the fourth in a series of international conferences organized by the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group (Asia MLE WG) that aims to build national and local capacity in designing, implementing and monitoring MLE programmes in the region.

Four thematic tracks will be featured at the conference: Multilingual education: What and Why: Towards Sound MLE Policy: Language and Language-in-Education Policy and Planning in Asia and the Pacific; Delivering Quality and Inclusive MLE: Teachers, Pedagogy and Innovations; and Measuring Impact.

The conference aims to strengthen momentum for MLE in the region and serve as a platform for a forward-looking debate that can help shape inclusive and progressive education policies for the post-2015 agenda.

The Event:4th International Conference on Language and Education: Multiple Education for All in Asia and the Pacific – Policies, Practices and Processes.
When: 6-8 November 2013.


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Teaching Diversity

Teaching diversity

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Yakima Valley schools seek more diversity among teachers

Posted on November 3, 2013

By Rafael Guerrero / Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. — Erica Rodriguez, a second-grade teacher at Barge-Lincoln Elementary School in Yakima, was a child of immigrants who left Monterrey, Mexico, to work in the fields around Othello.

Rodriguez remembers that in grade school, she had few minority teachers, which she says influenced her decision to become an educator so more minority students would have role models.

“I wanted to tell (and show) kids they could get out of field work and not follow their parents,” said Rodriguez, who has been teaching for 15 years.

But today, Rodriguez and other minority teachers still aren’t represented in numbers that reflect the student population of schools up and down the Yakima Valley.

While the number of minority college students keeps growing, their interest in teaching remains low. For a number of reasons, teaching is simply not as appealing as other careers.

State data show that the racial and ethnic breakdown of Washington’s teachers does not mirror the demographics in the classrooms.

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Last school year, about 59 percent of public school students identified themselves as white, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Meanwhile, the percentage of teachers that identified as white was about 87 percent, according to the state’s Professional Educator Standards Board.

The disparity is far higher in the Yakima Valley, where minorities often make up the majority of students. Ten-year statewide and local data from the standards board show that while there’s been a slight increase in teachers identifying as minorities, their numbers are still dwarfed by teachers who identify as white.

In local school districts, where minority student populations can exceed 90 percent, the percentage of teachers identifying as non-white ranged from zero to a “high” of 33 percent in Grandview.

In the Yakima School District, easily the Valley’s largest, 75 percent of students are Hispanic but 80 percent of teachers are white.

In Yakima, these disparities are obvious, but there isn’t much officials can do to improve them, said Kelly Garza, assistant superintendent for human resources. For starters, the pool of minority teachers to recruit from is already small.

What’s more, some minority candidates do not stand out during the screening process and the district “may have to pass them up” for better choices. The Yakima School District, in the end, is looking for the best teachers out there regardless of race, he said.

“It is tough to get highly qualified, endorsed minorities,” said Garza, himself a former teacher and principal in the Wapato School District.

Sunnyside, the region’s second-largest school district, recently contracted with a recruiter who travels to colleges in the region in hopes of finding interested candidates — particularly Hispanic and bilingual teachers, who are the most coveted in a district where almost 92 percent of students last school year were Hispanic, according to OSPI.

Curtis Campbell, director of executive services for the Sunnyside School District, said it’s a priority to try and have the teacher workforce reflect the student population.

In order to make it happen, however, Campbell said the district needs more minorities to apply.

“This year, we saw a greater mix (applying) — not just in candidates but the candidates who fit in with the position,” he said.


Why do minorities avoid teaching?

There are numerous reasons why teaching is not high on many minority students’ radars.

“They go into more lucrative jobs,” said Ivy Butler, 34, who identifies as African-American, referring to engineering and medicine.

The average salary for a Washington public school teacher last school year was $52,223, according to the state superintendent’s office. The average salary for a mechanical engineer last year, on the other hand, was $84,770, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When she was a grade school student in Denver, and later in Mukilteo, Butler didn’t have many minority teachers.

“If a kid sees someone that looks like them, they might say, ‘Oh, I might consider doing that,’” she said.

Like her mother, Butler wants to be a teacher and is studying general science education at Central Washington University with hopes of teaching high school one day.

Many minority students after finishing grade school may not want to relive the school experience as a teacher, said Ner Garza, an ESL teacher at Davis High School.

But Garza did not mind going back to the classroom and he’s now in his 25th year of teaching.

His family had migrated from the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to Prosser when he was a child and he eventually attended Yakima Valley Community College, Central Washington University and Heritage University.

Mea Moore, interim dean of Heritage University’s College of Education and Psychology, said family opinions about the teaching profession come into the picture — especially with first-generation college students.

“First-gen students tend to overlook education as a respected profession and are more geared toward engineering, medicine, law, math and sciences … just because the cachet of those professions have a higher perceptual value in a community,” said Moore.


Recruiting efforts

Heritage is one of many schools and groups in the state trying to recruit more minorities to study education.

At Heritage, where almost 66 percent of students identified themselves as minorities last year, education majors are enrolling in HU 105, a federally funded joint venture between Heritage and Educational Service District 105, an umbrella organization that provides a wide range of services to school districts in Central Washington.

The venture places prospective teachers into local schools for two years under what is essentially an extended student teaching program.

The goal of the program, funded through 2015, is to drive home the connection between the job and the community the student teachers are working in, Moore said. Making that connection is important because many teachers in high-need districts tend to relocate and new hires get brought in as replacements, creating what Moore describes as a revolving door effect.

Under HU 105, which has a high number of minorities interested in teaching, students spend much longer time in the classrooms compared to the average student-teacher. Many of them are local and come from backgrounds similar to the schoolchildren, Moore said. Having the children work with teachers they can identify with could inspire them to follow in their footsteps.

At least 20 percent of students studying education at CWU are minorities, but the university is trying to bump up those numbers, said Connie Lambert, dean of the College Of Education And Professional Studies.

Furthermore, the university is partnering with some school districts west of the Cascades for the Recruiting Washington Teachers grant program, which helps recruit minority high school students into education careers.

The statewide initiative, enacted by the Legislature in 2007, had a program in the Yakima Valley until last year when funding was cut.

Lambert said colleges are doing their part to narrow the ethnicity with programs like Recruiting Washington Teachers and HU 105.

“The teachers need to reflect the diverse body of the classrooms,” she said.

The Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee was created by the Legislature years ago to address the perceived academic disparities between students of different racial, social and economic backgrounds.

Lillian Ortiz-Self, co-chairwoman of the panel, said the committee recommended creating incentives for students to pursue teaching careers, providing services for minority teachers to cope with problems they may face, offering financial assistance and providing diversity and language training.

Colleges and universities statewide, in general, have not been doing enough to bring more diversity into the teaching field, said Wanda Brown-Billingsly, a committee member as well as a legislative representative for the state Commission on African American Affairs.

While she points at Heritage as an exception, Brown-Billingsly said she’s surprised that few minorities at the larger universities want to become teachers.

“I wouldn’t say the landscape is very good,” she said. “I don’t think the universities are doing a good job maintaining a pipeline” of minority students interested in teaching.

Editorial: Closing the diversity gap in public schools

Faculties looking less and less like the students they teach

Oct. 26, 2013

No school factor — not budget, not class size, not curriculum — is more important to a child’s experience in the classroom than the teacher, but that’s not how we treat teachers in the United States, and it shows.

About 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of starting their careers — 46 percent according to a 2003 study by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll — more than any other profession.

The reason? Generally, it’s the working conditions, compounded by the fact that the job — arguably the most important job for ensuring the well-being of our children and the long-term health of our democracy — barely pays the bills.

It’s perhaps the ultimate manifestation of decades of public policy-making that is hostile to public education, and to some degree it hurts all of us. But like all bad public policy, it hurts some more than others.

In today’s report, “Color blind in the classroom,” reporter Justin Hinkley offers a prime example.

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“Across the area, across the state and across the country, teaching staffs do not reflect the growing diversity of public school classrooms. While 20 percent of area students are of color, just 3 percent of local teachers are. Male teachers of color are especially lacking, with women teachers outnumbering men three-to-one.”

Some readers may ask themselves, “So what? What do ethnicity and gender have to do with the quality of classroom instruction?” If the only factors to consider were academic credentials or instructional competency, the answer may be little to nothing, but classrooms and schools aren’t laboratories, they are human communities that must manage and overcome human frailties in a complex and often emotional setting in which kids are not always at their best.

In a multicultural classroom, diversity matters. A lot.

Teachers of color serve as role models for students, giving them a clear and concrete sense of what diversity in education — and in our society — looks like. A recent review of empirical studies also shows that students of color do better on a variety of academic outcomes if they’re taught by teachers of color.

The relationship is far deeper, however, than one of skin complexion. It’s about cultural competency and the ability for students and teachers to identify with one another.

In a study last year, Howard University’s Ivory A. Toldson and Mercedes Ebanks reviewed the response patterns of nearly 9,000 students who completed the National Crime Victimization Survey: School Crime Supplement of 2009.

“We found that black students were less likely to perceive empathy and respect from their teachers and more likely to view the school as a punitive learning environment than white students,” Toldson wrote in an essay for

Toldson went on to write that many teachers may be operating under an implicit association bias, whereby on a subconscious level, they may view black children as security risks.

That may be difficult for many educators, who enter their profession for noble reasons, to accept, but the fact of the matter is that these perceptions exist, and those perceptions help to explain the stubborn achievement gaps between white students and students of color.

Recruiting diversity is part of the answer, but we suggest that it’s not the biggest part. New research from the University of Pennsylvania and UC Santa Cruz suggests that teachers of color, who are leaving the profession even faster than their white counterparts, want more influence over school direction and more autonomy in the classroom to teach what works.

In other words, they’re frustrated by the “teach to the test” mentality that is steadily destroying our nation’s public school system.

We’ve often written how high stakes tests are killing our schools, and the achievement and diversity gaps are among many indications of exactly how. As we said, bad public policy hurts all of us, but it always hurts some more than others.

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